I think one of the biggest challenges in maintaining faith in God is the existence of suffering. While the Church has some great things to say about suffering and you may be able to recognize logically that the existence of suffering, for example, a chronic illness, doesn’t mean God isn’t there, it can be hard to stay positive and hold onto those promises when you’re lying in bed instead of hanging out with friends or you have to cancel plans for the 5th time in a row because you just can’t get your body to do what it is supposed to.
When I got diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (a more slowly progressing version of type 1 diabetes), the main thing that helped me come to terms with my disease (and continues to carry me through) is my relationship with God. The relationship can get pretty rocky, but I have found some things that get me through. I do want to give a disclaimer: this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some of these practices will work great, and others will make you want to punch me in the face. They also don’t always help in a tangible way, but any time spent with God to work through suffering will be fruitful.
1) Talk to God
There are so many great prayers for trusting God’s will and for help through suffering, but sometimes, you just need to be honest and express your frustration. God knows your heart, and it is ok to admit how weak you feel. Express your frustrations and dissatisfactions. Pray for strength and understanding, and sit in silence to listen to Him.
2) Partake in the sacraments
Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all interrelated. Having a chronic illness affects our physical health (obviously) and can be mentally and emotionally draining. There is only so much in your control that you can do to manage those factors, but I have found that strengthening your spiritual health can at least make dealing with weakness in other health areas a little easier. As Catholics, we are incredibly blessed to have the Eucharist and Confession. Confession can help provide spiritual healing, and the Eucharist gives us strength.
3) Cherry-pick helpful scripture verses
In any other situation, I would very strongly advise against doing this; reading the Bible requires very careful reading, and it is so wrong to pick and choose verses to shape dogma or determine moral teachings. However, the Bible is your connection to God, and if there is a verse that gives you strength in dealing with your illness, embrace it! Pray with it. Meditate on it. God’s word feeds our spirit; allow yourself to be fed.
4) Offer it up
I give this advice very carefully and recognize this is not the answer for everyone, but it has helped me. It’s easy to fall into despair with a chronic illness, and suffering is naturally part of it. Unfortunately for me, the struggles I’ve experienced have caused me to fall into sin. As I was discussing this during confession, my priest brought up the idea of offering that suffering up for someone. Offering a bad diabetes day up doesn’t make me feel better physically, but it gives it meaning, namely that my hurt could be helping someone.
5) Look at others
The examples of many saints and holy people, especially ones who knew how to suffer well, are a blessing to us. While it is unrealistic to expect every person to be able to crack a joke while being cooked alive like St. Lawrence or sing praises like the partially beheaded St. Cecilia, looking at models who held their faith even in the most difficult situations can inspire us. Finding a holy person we can relate to can guide us towards holiness through the challenges we face.
6) Your body is still a temple
Our bodies, broken though they may be, are still temples of the Holy Spirit. A church isn’t less holy if the floors creak or there is a draft, and you aren’t less holy because your immune system decided to attack your body or because your shoulder refuses to stay in its socket. Remembering that intimate connection we have with God is important when we want to curse our bodies for failing. While remembering this won’t heal us, it can help us accept it better.
The unfortunate reality of human existence is that there will be suffering, and those with chronic illnesses are even more aware of it. However, we can either get mad at God, or we can ask Him for help and trust in the promise He gave us for freedom from suffering after death.
How do you keep your faith, or even strengthen it, in times of suffering?